Hunger…it may not and cannot be experienced vicariously.
He who never felt hunger can never know its real effects,
both tangible and intangible.
Hunger defies imagination; it even defies memory.
Hunger is felt only in the present.
– Elie Wiesel
“HUNGRY – Will work for food!”
A man in shabby clothes wearing a cardboard sign around his neck inscribed with this pleading silent message was standing on the street corner as I left church on a recent Sunday morning. “Yeah, and what are you really hungry for,” I thought to myself as I slowly passed him by. It is so difficult to know what real hunger actually lurks behind the outstretched hands of those like him who are begging in the streets; even as it is also difficult to know what hunger was driving the Mercedes Benz in front of me or wearing the gold Rolex watch and spiffy Gucci shoes.
According to a recent United Nations report on hunger, we live in a world where more than 870 million people are chronically hungry and undernourished. Nearly one out of every eight people alive today literally do not have enough food to stay healthy and active. Hunger is not only prevalent in refugee camps and in the poorest of nations, but also among people living in some of the wealthiest countries of the world. “Feeding America” estimates that more than three million children under the age of five in America go to bed hungry each day.
Hunger can be such a driving force that some people will do anything — beg, borrow, and even steal in order to survive. Hunger can be so severe and so persistent a reality for some people that their daily lives hinge on the singular focus of finding food. It has not been an uncommon experience for me to meet men and women in prisons around the world who are locked up simply for having stolen food or committing other crimes in order to feed their starving families. Hunger, any deep and chronic hunger, can become a driving force that has even led some people to forgo the necessity of food to satisfy that other hunger. After waiting in limbo for years without being officially tried or sentenced, some fifty prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are currently entering the third month of a hunger strike by which they are seeking attention to their need for justice and fair treatment.
Regardless of one’s perspective, this situation points out the fact that a person can become so hungry for one thing that it becomes their central desire or craving and driving force of life in the same way that food is for so many others. I’ve never suffered from lack of food, nor can I remember being hungry for any one thing in particular over an extended period of time. But I know people who are addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, attention, power, recognition – and their addiction represents their innermost craving – their drive to satisfy a deep hunger that is not satisfied by food.
Hunger is not only about physical survival. Without our hunger for food we would soon become undernourished; without hunger for love we would become anti-social; without hunger for truth we would become out of touch with reality; without hunger for knowledge we would remain ignorant. There is also a hunger of which Jesus speaks that has enormous personal, social, and global implications. It is the hunger or craving for right living, for living in right relationship with others, for justice.
Jesus challenges people to so hunger and thirst for justice that it becomes the driving quest, the organizing force in their lives. I wonder what it really means to be motivated, if not driven, by a hunger for justice. What does that kind of hunger feel like? What does it look like? How would I live my life if hunger for justice was the core craving of my life? Would I yearn for an end to partisan conflicts; for an end to violence among people and nations; for an end to inequality that leaves some people satiated and others in misery; for an end to religious negativity and discrimination; and for kindness, generosity, forgiveness, peace and good-will to prevail among all people in all places? And if these are the symptoms of my hunger what do I need to do, how would I live in order to satisfy that hunger?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [justice], for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
– Matthew 5:6-9 (NIV)